Archive for the ‘Intelligence’ Category

Rule of Law erodes in France as Parliament authorizes massive data collection with no judicial oversight or review

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

France takes a big step backwards in the struggle for the rule of law, as the Parliament passes a law authorizing massive data collection without judicial oversight or review.

See

(1) CARLOS YÁRNOZ (París), El Parlamento francés da su apoyo final al espionaje sin control judicial; La aprobación de la ley coincide con el escándalo de las escuchas a tres presidentes, El Pais, 24 de junio 2015 (20:43 CEST).

(2) Stefan Ulrich (Kommentar), “Geheimdienste: Frankreich entwanze sein eigenes Haus; Heuchelei? Frankreich empört sich über die NSA-Spionage und weitet zugleich die Rechte der eigenen Geheimdienste aus. Paris sollte vor der eigenen Tür kehren,” Suddeutsche Zeitung, 25. Juni 2015 (09:12 Uhr).

(3) “Ecoutes massives: une méthode qui a séduit bien d’autres pays,” Le Figaro, le 24 Juin 2015.

The French look pretty silly, decrying the fact that the U.S. has spied on the last three presidentus of France on the same day that the Parlement adopts a law vastly expanding the government’s surveillance authority and even the power to enter homes without judicial supervision.

But a larger issue is at stake here, for all Western democracies.

Slowly we chip away at the guarantees of our fundamental human rights, achieved through centuries of struggle for thr Rule of Law, and always it is done in the name of fighting terrorism.

We seem oblivious to the fact that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, in the famous words of Lord Acton. The very bulwarks of our freedoms are being whittled away, with little thought of what will be left to protect us when the new criminals are overzealous officials in our own governments, who consider themselves and are considered to ba “above the law”.

The timing of the new law was full of irony, as it coincided wirh revelations that the U.S. had been spyingn Francois Hollande and the two preceding residents. But the issues it raises are not just of this moment, but rather are of trancendental significance for the future of democratic government under the rule of law.

The draft law itself will now be reviewed by the Conseil Constitionnel, which in France may review the constitutionality of a law before it enters into force. So a chance remains that the Constitutional Council will reject this travesty of a law.

The Trenchant Observer

The missing elements in the war against ISIS — Taking down their websites and engaging in robust public diplomacy

Friday, June 12th, 2015

UPDATE June 23, 2015

Europe is setting up a special police unit to monitor jihadist sites and content, andd to remove it.

See

Richard Spencer, “Europe-wide police unit to monitor Islamic State social media; Europol to set up specialist unit in response to concerns not enough is being done to prevent Isil propaganda,” The Telegraph, June 22, 2015 (12:15 p.m. BST).

This is the kind of action that is needed, on a very large scale, not only in Europe but in many other countries.

*****

See Mark Mazzetti and Michael R. Gordon, “ISIS Is Winning the Social Media War, U.S. Concludes,” New York Times, June 12, 2015.

In a converstaion recently, a friend asked what The Observer would do to counter ISIS (or the self-denominated “Islamic State”).

From that conversation emerged crystalized thoughts from months of reflection.  In brief, I would suggest, at least for purposes of debate, that we consider the following:

The Enormity of the Threat

First of all, we must recognize the enormity of the threat to civilized nations represented by ISIS, and the huge progress they have made in waging a war for young Muslim minds. The existence and growth of a barbarian political and military power, in the heart of the Middle East, constitutes an existential threat to societies from the Middle East to Europe, the United States, and beyond.

The most daunting aspect of the threat is the rejection by ISIS and other jihadists of the fundamental moral and legal values undegirding European civilization for the last 400 years. These values have developed since the Peace of Westphalia and the birth of the modern nation state system and international law, following the ThIrty Years’ War (1618-1648) and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution (including the revolutions in America and France).

These values spread through the rest of the world following World War II, with decolonization, the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and the universal recognition of governments’ legal obligations to protect fundmental human rights. They are now under attack.

International law obligations to protect fundamental human rights, refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state, and to comply with international treaties, customary international law, and the United Nations Charter itself, are all challenged by the growth of ISIS and other jihadists. The latter reject the values upon which the former are founded, retreating to the use of barbarism in fighting all who do not submit to their twisted and extreme vision of Islamic rule.

To date, the West and other civilized countries have not recognized the larger threat posed by ISIS and other jihadists, or at least not reacted in a manner commensurate with the nature and dimensions of the threat.

Responses have been limited in the main to defending against potential terrorist threats to the homeland, and to killing as many jihadists as possible in order to limit their territorial gains.

This approach, however necessary, has essentially failed to stem the growth of ISIS and others. It fails to adequately address the essential nature of the problem, which is that it involves a war for young Muslim minds, not only in Syria, Iraq, northern Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also in Europe, America and in many other countries throughout the world.

What more can be done?

Proposition for Debate #1: Taking Down Their Websites

First, we should consider whether to attack the capabilities of ISIS and other jihadists to spread their views and to use slick propaganda to gather new recruits.

We could take down their websites as fast as they pop up, and ensure that videos of beheadings and other acts of barbarism cannot be viewed, or viewed for long, on the Internet or social media. We could, perhaps in concert with other countries, prohibit their reproduction on television, in newspapers, or on social media. Italy successfully followed a similar policy in dealing with terrorists in the 1970’s.

We could use all of our military and intelligence capabilities to take down these sites. Freedom of speech is critically important, but it does not include the right to shout fire in a theater, or to incite others to join groups which commit horrendous acts of violence.

To be sure, there will be a need for judicial supervision and review, in some form, of such activities.

One suspects that the intelligence agencies, which probably glean important information about visitors to such websites, will strongly oppose taking them down. Yet a larger view is needed to inform decisions.

Does the intelligence gathered outweigh the benefit of crippling the recruitment and propaganda activities of the jihadists? Who will decide?

We should consider and debate these questions.

Proposition for Debate #2: Creating a much more robust public diplomacy

Second, we could mount a much larger and more effective public diplomacy structure and campaign, something on the scale of the U.S. Information Agency in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Obviously, a large effort would need to be made on the Internet and social media.

But we could also rebuild and build out our shortwave and medium wave broadcast capabilities, fund them, and greatly expand the schedule of broadcasts on the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, for example.

Before this idea is dismissed as obsolete, we should bear in mind that Internet sites can be blocked by those with territorial power such as the “Islamic State” or governments. Users and listeners can be tracked, as they were in Iran in 2009. One of the great advantages of older technologies like radio is that listeners cannot be tracked, and jamming is not always effective. Television can also be beamed by satellites or high-altitude balloons. In an authoritarian country in Africa or the Middle East, radio and broadcast television may still work as ways of getting through. One need only to have listened to a VOA broadcast in a country with no freedom of expression to appreciate this point.

What is clear is that the USIA, since it has been dismantled as an independent agency and wrapped into the Department od State, has lost much of its effectiveness. About all that remains are the VOA and RFE/RL broadcasts, on reduced schedules and to a much more limited number of countries.

Other partners in the battle against ISIS and other jihadists could be encouraged to bolster their own activities. Some form of coordination might be undertaken.

The separation between independent news, on the one hand, and opinion representing the views of the U.S. government, on the other, which flourished when the Agency was led by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950’s, should be strengthened.

Similarly, the laws prohibiting the U.S. government from directing its information activities at domestic audiences should be upheld.

There could be an issue here to the extent such a limitation limits the ways in which public diplomacy efforts can be directed at young Muslims in the United States. Other means of rebutting the jihadists will probably need to be found.

What is critical is that the intelligence agencies, or public diplomacy efforts, not be used to sell government policies to citizens in the U.S. This line has been crossed repeatedly since 9/11, but its strict observance going forward is absolutely critical.

Other Steps

Many defeats in the war for young Muslim minds may be attributed to the loss of respect the U.S. has suffered as a result of its use of torture at Abu Gharib and elsewhere, the conditions in which prisoners were held for years without trial or even military commission review at Guantanamo, the 2003 invasion of Iraq in clear violation of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition of the use of force, the use of drones outside war theaters in apparent violation of international law, and in general actions that do not sit well with America’s preferred view of itself as a city on a hill, where dedication to the pursuit of freedom and the rule of law, both at home and abroad, are the hallmarks of a democratic society and its government.

Improvement in these areas would in the long term help in the struggle for young Muslim minds, and also help reformers within Muslim societies win their struggle for the rule of law in their own countries.

But for now, two issues which urgently merit full discussion are those outlined above.

The Trenchant Observer

How the West helps Putin suppress the truth about Russian military intervention in the Ukraine

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

Developing

See

Stephanie Bolzen und Julia Smirnova, “Warum Russland im Informationskrieg vorn liegt Die Nato wirft Russland gewaltige Truppenpräsenz in der Ostukraine vor. Putin dementiert, der Westen ist hilflos. Warum werden Geheimdienst-Beweise nicht genutzt, um Druck auf den Kreml auszuüben?,” Die Welt, 1. Februar 2015 (13:27 Uhr).

We have commented earlier on Barack Obama’s “phantasmagoric” world, in which the choice of words define reality.

See “Barack Obama’s phantasmagoric world, where the choice of words defines reality,” The Trenchant Observer, September 5, 2015.

We have pointed out how newspapers like the Wall Street Journal help Vladimir Putin in carrying out his “stealth” war against the Ukraine, by never reporting the facts of the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine, but rather stating that NATO or other allied sources “charge” Russia with specific acts of military aggression, always dutifully noting that Russia rejects the charge and maintains it has no forces in the Donbas.

See “Go for Putin!,” The Trenchant Observer, November 12, 2014.

When does that Russian denial, which is contrary to all known and directly observed facts, cease to be “news”? If it’s not news, why is the Wall Street Journal reporting it?

What ever happened to the duty and moral obligation of newspapers to report to their readers the facts of what is going on in the world?

Such reporting is totally at odds with the kind of “he said, she said” jounalism which all too often has become the rule, even and egregiously in countries where there is freedom of the press.

Now Stephanie Bolzen in London and Julia Smirnova in Moscow have in Die Welt (Berlin) published a comprehensive overview of how Putin and Russia have used the diffidence of leaders like Barack Obama (who until quite recently refused to characterize the Russian invasion of the Donbas as an invasion) and newspapers like the Wall Street Journal to his own advantage in winning the propaganda war against the West, obfuscating the stark and unambiguous facts of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

Moreover, the U.S. and allied military and intelligence agencies have a huge array of information, based on concrete facts, which they could bring to bear in rebutting Putin’s assertions and lies. Why don’t they?

After he is retired, we can ask U.S. General Philip Breedlove for his full account of the facts of Russian aggression. Breedlove is NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe. He obviously would like to tell us many more of the facts of Russian military intervention in the Ukraine than his superiors in Washington seem to want to allow.

These little lies have their cost: Over 5,000 people have been killed in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the Ukraine since the invasion of regular Soviet military forces took place there in August, 2015.

“In war, the first casualty is truth,” Aeschylus, the famous Greek playright, was perhaps the first to observe.

The problem with Obama’s and the Wall Street Journal’s diffident and even dainty approach to the truth about the Russian-Ukrainian war is that Western leaders become confused by their own politically-motivated “dances” with the truth. In this, they resemble their Russian counterparts who, deprived of the truth and served up a daily feast of grotesque lies and distortions, may also have difficulty understanding what is going on in the Ukraine.

To be sure, this is as Putin would have it. But it is also true that Barack Obama did not want the American people to hear from the government that Russia has invaded the Ukraine.

Hillary Clinton explained the logic behind this kind of verbal legerdemain: If we called what is going on in the Darfur region of the Sudan “genocide”, she said on a TV talk program, then there would be great pressure to take action to do something about it.

Precisely.

That is why the voters in democracies need to know the truth, and choose their leaders and representatives on the basis of the realities they understand which are based on truthful statements by their leaders, and full and truthful reporting by their press.

It is time for the president of the U.S. and other Western and allied leaders to describe what they see in the world in real terms, expressing the truth of what they understand and believe based on the facts available to them, or which might be obtained with some effort–a little “shoe leather” as journalists used to put it.

Unless we call things by their real names, we are lost.

The Trenchant Observer

Brazil publishes Truth Commission Report; U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture Released; U.S. officials debate whether torture “worked”

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Developing — preliminary draft

See

(1) “Comissão Nacional da Verdade entrega a Dilma relatório final das investigawções; Presidente recebeu em audiência no Palácio do Planalto, às 9h, os seis integrantes da CNV,” O GLOBO, 10 dezembro 2014 8:28 ( ATUALIZADO 10/12/2014 10:03 h)i

(2) Comissão da Verdade, “Relatorio Final,” O Estado de Sao Paulo, 1d0 Dezembro 2014.

(3) (Brasilia / Sao Paulo)”CRIMES DA DITADURA: Comissão pede punição para 377 pelos crimes da ditadura; LISTA INCLUI PRESIDENTES; GRUPO DIZ QUE LEI DA ANISTIA NÃO SE APLICA; FORÇAS ARMADAS SILENCIAM SOBRE RELATÓRIO,” Folha de Sao Paulo, 10 Dezembro 2014.

(4) “The Senate Committee’s Report on the C.I.A.’s Use of Torture,” New York Times, DEC. 9, 2014.

It will take a few days to process all that is being said about the Senate Torture Report and its contents. The report was released on December 9, 2014.

Today, on December 10, 2014, Human Rights Day, the Brazilian Truth Commission released its report on the crimes committed under military rule from 1964 to 1985.

The two documents should perhaps be read together, so Americans can learn a thing or two from the Brazilian experience.

The U.S. Senate report is narrowly focused on acts of torture and other cruel and inhuman punishment committed by the CIA from September 11, 2001 through the end of the Bush presidency in January, 2009. Subjects excluded are acts of torture committed by the military, and procedures followed after January 2009, when Barack Obama became president.

The Brazilian report, while delayed for 30 years, is much more comprehensive. It is not heavily redacted like the Executive Summary of the U.S. Senate Report, is published in full and not just as an Executive Summary, and lists names, dates, victims, and the individuals responsible for the crimes that were committed.

One other difference stands out: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has not given free reign to those in the government to defend in public the commission of what constitute grave international crimes.

In the U.S., the former architects and implementers of torture have launched an all-out public relations campaign aimed at persuading the public that the actions they carried out were necessary, legal, morally justified, and produced critically important imformation that saved innocent lives.

On the legal issue, it is worth stressing that the crimes they committed were felonies under U.S. law as well as international crimes under the U.N. Torture Convention, other Human Rights conventions, and humanitarian law (the Law of War), including the 1949 Geneva Conventions and subsequent Protocols.

They argue that they were carrying out orders from top government officials, under legal guidance from the Department of Justice.

But they ignore the fact that “due obedience” to a superior order, or even under purported legal cover from the Department of Justice, is no defense to the charges of international crimes for which they may still one day have to answer.

The president does not have the authority to legally authorize the commission of torture or other international crimes.

No court can order torture, or approve of its use.

However loud their cries of self-justification may be today, they would be well advised to make their future travel plans abroad with meticulous care.

For while Barack Obama has refused to prosecute them, under the Convention Against Tortue other countries may some day bring them to justice.

There is a hidden benefit to the public relations campaign now underway by those who would defend and justify the use of torture. They are identifying themselves publicly as “friends of torture”.

A list should be made of those making these arguments, which could be helpful to future prosecutors looking for officials or former officials who may be suspected of committing torture, or who might serve as material witnesses in other cases.

The list should also be useful in identifying present or former government officials who are releasing, apparently without authorization, classified information which they seek to marshal in the defense of torture.

There is one further aspect which is worth reflecting on. While the “friends of torture” are arguing loudly and vociferously that torture was justified, and they were justified in adopting policies or committing acts of torture, they at the same time have argued that release of the Senate report would pose risks to Americans and American interests abroad.

But think about it for a minute. Won’t the declarations that torture was justified, and “produced results”, simply confirm the beliefs of jihaddists and others who they seek to recruit or win over, that the U.S. remains a country that believes in torture, and whatever Obama’s Executive Order may state, is a country that will resort to torture in the future whenever it believes that it will be effective in securing useful information?

In short, the “friends of torture” are undermining America’s statement of its commitment to the world that it will never commit torture again.

Of course, the real issues that should be considered are whether it is morally or legally permissible to commit felonies or international crimes against the physical integrity of another human being, however effective it might be in securing some immediate objective.

The argument is no different from an argument that it is morally permissible to kill another human being without a valid legal excuse, merely in order to achieve some important private or public goal. Certainly no civilized country could allow a private individual to commit such crimes, and even less so can we permit a government official, acting with the authority and power of the state, to take a human life or violate the physical integrity of another human being.

Finally, the “friends of torture” argue that torture works.

It may, in some cases, which did not prevent the Romans from banning the use of torture against Roman citizens, or Europe and America beginning in the 18th century from banning the tortue of any human being.

Our experience with Japan and Germany in World War II confirmed the absolute necessity of protecting human beings from torture by government officials, under any circumstances.

It is remarkable that during Workd War II the United States did not adopt a policy of using torture, despite the exigencies of those times. Indeed, until 2001 the U.S. upheld the prohibition of torture, while prosecuting those responsible for its commission.

Obama has violated and continues to violate the peremptory obligation under the Torture Convention to prosecute those who are suspected of planning or participating in acts of torture.

The United States must now move to follow the Brazilian example, or one like it, by publishing all of the facts on U.S. acts and policies of torture, with names and dates of perpetrators as well as victims, in unredacted form.

Those responsible for torture should then be prosecuted–there is no statute of limitations for international crimes–or required to go through a peace and reconciliation process in which they admit their crimes as a condition for leniency or even pardon.

if Obama wants to limit the risks to Americans and damage to U.S. interests, he should start by ordering John Brennan and other intelligence operatives in the U.S. government to shut up, to stop trying to publicly justify their acts of torture, which were contrary to  current U.S. policy and  legal obligations, both international and domestic.

He should also prosecute those “friends if torture” who are releasing without authorization classified information in their defense of torture.

Finally, he should fire John Brennan, who clearly is not equipped or willing to reform the CIA so as to ensure it never commits torture in the future.

Trenchant Observer

Obama seeks to block publication of Senate torture report; Pillar of democracy at stake

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Background — See

(1) “Sicherheitsbedenken: US-Regierung bremst Veröffentlichung von CIA-Folterbericht,” Der Spiegel, 6. Dezember 2014 (19:55 Uhr).

Der US-Senat wollte umfassende Informationen über geheime Foltermethoden der CIA publizieren. Nun blockiert die Regierung in Washington in letzter Sekunde die Veröffentlichung – und begründet dies mit Sorge vor neuer Gewalt im Nahen Osten.”

(2) Reuters (Washington), “Kerry urges caution over timing of releasing U.S. torture report,” Reuters, December 5, 2014 (7:40pm EST).

(3) Matthew Lee and Ken Dilian, “Kerry to Feinstein: Consider timing of CIA report,” Associated Press (AP), December 5, 2014 (6:26 PM EST).

(4) “Obama: ‘We tortured some folks…It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks (our law enforcement and our national security teams) were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.’” (full transcript), The Trenchant Observer. August 1, 2014.

(5) “Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2013.

One of the fundamental pillars of any democracy is the right of the people, those who in the U.S. elect the president and members of the Senate and the House, to know what actions the government has carried out with their money and in their name.

To the extent secret laws, secret courts, and doctrines that prevent the adjudication of the constitutionality and legality of the government’s actions prevent the people, the electorate, from learning what actions the government has taken and what crimes it has committed, the very edifice of democracy is eroded as the structure that remains becomes a hollow shell.

Now we hear the wholly specious argument, from Secretary of State John Kerry no less, that publication of the Senate’s Torture Report must be “delayed” because it will cause violence in the Middle East and South Asia, and will expose American hostages to risks and other Americans to being taken as hostages by extremists. (See Reuters aarticle above.) Release of the Report has already been delayed, for years.

Let there be no confusion over the high probability that further “delaying” the publication of the Torture Report will mean blocking its release. When the Republicans take over control of the Senate in January, it appears very likely they will block dissemination of the Report, if it has not already been distributed.

Kerry’s plea for delay has all the markings of an artful maneuver by Obama to block publication of the Torture Report while claiming he favors its release.

The statement by Kerry’s press spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, that he had called Senator Diane Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to ask for delay, came on Friday–well-timed to avoid coverage in the leading U.S. newspapers over the weekend.

So, the fault here according to the Obama administration is that those who want to learn and publish the facts regarding torture by the U.S. government, or extraordinary rendition to “black” prisons in places like Poland, in flagrant violation of human rights treaties, the laws of war, and customary international law, will endanger the country’s interests and its citizens abroad. The enemy, in short, is the truth.

It doesn’t seem to occur to President Obama or elected officials who acquiesce in such government secrecy that it is the government’s actions and crimes themselves that cause the damage to the nation’s interests. While the Islamic State and other groups are growing by the day, it doesn’t occur to these leaders that the torture itself has imposed an immeasurable cost on the idea of America in the world, and the country’s interests.

With John Brennan sitting as Director of the CIA, and the failure of the Obama administration to prosecute those responsible for policies and acts of torture, in flagrant violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, America has never made a clean break with torture.

The simple fact that  one of the key figures in the torture program has never been prosecuted for torture as required by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, and publishes op-eds in newspapers like the Washington Post every time the there is a threat that the truth about the actions he led might come out, reveals how far America is from making a clean break with its policies of torture in the past.

See

(1) Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., “Today’s CIA critics once urged the agency to do anything to fight al-Qaeda,” The Washingtonn Post, December 5, 2014.

(2) “Key CIA official involved in Bush torture program criticizes “Zero Dark Thirty” for inaccurate depiction of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’,” The Trenchant Observer, January 7, 2013.

One can understand Rodriguez’ anguish over crimes he apparently was complicit in, believing he was acting in accordance with the orders of the highest officials in the country, without agreeing with his arguments and conclusions. He poses serious questions. The best answer to them is publication of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on Torture.

Publication of the Senate Report can begin to correct the government policies that led to torture and that tolerate the non-prosecution of those responsible for torture. If we are ever to diminish the hatred toward America felt by jihadists and many others in the world, it will not be by continuing to hide our crimes behind a wall of secrecy–which only confirms the worst fears and suspicions of the jihadists and those they seek to recruit–but rather by letting the light of truth uncover these crimes and point us down a path that will ensure that they will never happen again.

Barack Obama, in his typically cute way, is seeking to avoid personal responsibility for blocking publication of the report (actually only it’s Executive Summary), seeking through Kerry to block its release while putting out the word that he favors publication.

This is utterly disingenuous on his part.

This is what it’s like to live in a national security and surveillance state where the most important decisions for the life of a democracy are left in the hands of unelected intelligence officials who are themselves complicit in the commission of the crimes to be reported. CIA Director John Brennan is the leading case in point.

Who is in charge of the government, President Barack Obama and the Congress, or John Brennan and the other intelligence chiefs?

If Obama wants to publish the Executive Summary of the Senate Report, he should do so, taking broader considerations into account than those in the narrow purview of secretive intelligence operatives.

Moreover, as soon as possible after publication of the Executive Summary, the full report should be published.

The only redactions that should be accepted are those that are critically important to protecting present sources and methods, and not those aimed at avoiding embarrassment or the revelation of complicity in crimes.

The Trenchant Observer

The press acts as a megaphone for ISIS by showing pictures or videos related to beheadings

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

It seems that one important measure for limiting the effects of the fear ISIS or IS is trying to spread in the West, and the effectiveness of its recruiting campaign by engaging in terror, would be to simply not show any pictures or videos related to beheadings on television, YouTube, websites, or in the printed media.

The press should not be serving as a megaphone for ISIS’s terror propaganda.

Immediately, news outlets and Internet Service Providers should ban the publication of any such videos or photographs in media or websites under their control.

As soon as possible, legislation should be passed making the showing of terrorist propaganda such as beheadings on any media a crime.

At the same time, the terrorists’ web sites should be taken down by military or intelligence agencies’ cyber-warfare operations. Any argument of the intelligence agencies to the effect that they want to trace and identify everyone who comes to the site should be overruled insofar as pictures and videos of beheadings of Westerners, or indeed anyone, are concerned.

Why has this not already been done?

Don’t people in our government get the point that terror is spread through the media?

News stories, without the pictures, of course, are fine and should be published.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama: “We tortured some folks…It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks (our law enforcement and our national security teams) were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.” (full transcript)

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Developing

Excerpt from President Barack Obama’s press conference today, Fiday, August 1, 2014:

Q What about John Brennan?

THE PRESIDENT:

On Brennan and the CIA, the RDI report has been transmitted, the declassified version that will be released at the pleasure of the Senate committee.

I have full confidence in John Brennan. I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff. And it’s clear from the IG report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled. Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.

With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.

I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard. And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line. And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.

–Transcript, Press Conference by the President, White House, James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, August 1, 2014 (2:45 P.M. EDT). The text of the transcipt is found here.

It’s hard to know what is more shocking: 1) the casual language the President used in admitting torture; 2) what he actually said (calling torturers “real patriots”; or 3) the fact that he seemed totally oblivious to the import and impact of what he was saying.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s six crises and collapsing foreign policy: Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and China’s actions in the East and South China Seas

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Developing

President Barack Obama now faces six simultaneous crises, amid the collapsing edifice of his foreign policy. They are:

1. Russia and the Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of the eastern Ukraine continues, calling the West’s bluff that it would impose sectoral sanctions.

The fact that Russia is acting through special operations and irregular foces has no bearing on its responsibility under international law for these actions. They amount to an “armed attack” under the terms of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, creating a right self-defense on the part of the Ukraine, and a right of “collective self-defense” on the part of other states, up to and including the use of force, to repel the invasion.

Economic and other sanctions are similarly justifiable as measures of self-defense, and also as “countermeasures” in response to illegal intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine.

But where legal authority for action to stop the Russians is abundant and clear, the political will of the countries in the West to act effectively is almost non-existant. Instead, appeasement and a new form of “hybrid” pacifism have taken hold.

Putin knows his antagonists. As the one-month deadline for stopping support of the “separatists” in eastern Ukraine draws near, the EU and the U.S. are already backing down, talking now of further “targeted” sanctions–not sectoral sanctions. Today Obama added seven individuals to the list.

If there were any doubt in Putin’s mind about Obama’s decisiveness, the latter’s meek and temporizing responses to the advances of ISIS in Iraq should have put those doubts to rest.

Russia continues its invasion of eastern Ukraine, sending additional tanks and other equipment across the border right now.

Having concentrated control of foreign policy in the White House, President Obama does not have the decision making capacity to deal with multiple crises at the same time, or indeed the decisiveness to take timely and effective action in any one of them.

We have devoted great attention to Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and its ongoing invasion of the eastern Ukraine, because these actions and the pacifism and appeasement with which they have been met in the West directly threaten the collapse of the institutions and norms established to uphold the maintenance of international peace and security.

In the hierarchy of grave crises, the Russian invasion of the Ukraine remains the most serious, because it threatens to destroy or eviscerate the necessary tools of international law and institutions which are essential for the resolution of other crises, including those which are presently all raging at the same time.

When the question seems to be where to send the fire brigade, actually the more fundamental question is how can you keep the fire brigade functioning, and operating effectively?

See:

Brett Logiurato, “Ukraine Wants A Ceasefire — Russia Is Sending A Bunch Of Tanks Into Ukraine,” Business Insider, June 20, 2014 (1:16 p.m.).

To be continued…

2. Iraq

The armed forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured Mosul, and are driving south toward Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmurga forces have occupied Kirkuk. The tribes in the Sunni triangle are collaborating with ISIS. The newly elected Parliament is to convene and elect a new prime minister.

Iraq has requested the U.S. to conduct airstrikes against ISIS forces. Obama has disatched under 300 soldiers to help protect the U.S, Embassy, and also approximately 300 special forces troops and advisers to help the Iraqi military.

If the ISIS advance is not stopped, particularly toward Shiite shrines in the south, Iran may intervene militarily to defend the shrines and the al-Maliki Shiite government.

Tellingly, one of Obama’s first moves was to go to Congressional leaders to see what actions might be politically acceptable, instead of huddling with all of his top national security officials to decide what actions are required by the exigencies of the present military and political situation in Iraq.

3. Syria

Syria has been reported by the international chemical weapons agency, charged by the Security Council with overseeing Syria’s surrender and destruction of all of its chemical weapons, as having recently used chemical weapons (chlorine gas) against its population on a number of occasions.

Such actions would appear to cross Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons use. What is he going to do about it? His “red line” seems to have been written in the sand.

4. Afghanistan

The Afghan presidential run-off election on June 14 was, according to the leading candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, the subject of massive fraud in the eastern portions of the country, the traditional base of his opponent, Ashraf Ghani.

The actions the U.S. takes in the coming days may have a decisive impact on the transparency and outcome of the election. If a satisfactory way out of the present crisis is not found, the legitimacy of the new government and the prospects for its survival after U.S. forces withdraw in 2015 could be greatly diminished.

In thinking about Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers should keep one image firmly fixed in their minds: that of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers laying down their arms and fleeing from battle as ISIS forces approached in Mosul, and elsewhere.

A full-blwn crisis has erupted.

5. Iran

A settlement of the nuclear dispute with Iran is far from assured. The six-month interim agreement will expire on July 20. The talks could not bear fruit, raising again the possibility of a military strike by Israel against Iran’s buclear installations.

6. China and territorial claims in the South and East China Seas

In the last week China has begun moving oil rigs into disputed territorial waters. This is highly provocative, and has the potential to generate an arms race with its neighbors in the region, including Vietnam, Japan and Korea.

The U.S. needs to actively intervene in this crisis to ensure it does not lead to military incidents in the region, or an arms race. The ultimate risk is that Tokyo could be driven to deploy nuclear weapons. Few doubt that it has the capability to do so.

Can President Obama and his administration handle all of these crises simultaneously, and successfully?

We shall see, and very soon.

The Trenchant Observer

Afghanistan Presidential Election: Abdullah Calls for Halt to Vote-Counting Alleging Fraud by the Electoral Commission

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Developing

Four days after the presidential run-off election in Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, who led the first-round results with 45% of the votes compared to 32% for Ashraf Ghani, his opponent in the Sunday second-round election, has accused the Electoral Commission of committing fraud in favor of his opponent, demanded an immediate halt to the vote-counting, and ordered his election workers to withdraw from the centers where the votes are being counted.

Abdullah witnessed massive fraud reportedly orchestrated by President Hamid Karzai in the last presidential election, in 2009, and withdrew from the second-round run-off against Karzai only under intense U.S. pressure to do so.

It appears that he is not willing to go quietly into the night again if he is robbed of a second election.

See

(1) Margherita Stancati (Kabul), “Afghan Candidate Boycotts Count of Votes; Abdullah, a Karzai Rival, Alleges Fraud in Presidential Runoff, Citing Outsize Turnout in Opponent’s Areas of Support,” Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2014 (Updated 7:40 p.m. ET)

(2) Arzam Ahmed and Matthew Rosenberg (Kabul and Pashir Valley), “Candidate’s Protest Clouds Afghan Vote-Counting for President,” New York Times, June 18, 2014.

(3) “Wahlen in Afghanistan: Favorit Abdullah verlangt Abbruch der Stimmenauszählung,” Der Spiegel, 18. Juni 2014 (17:11 Uhr).

Die Präsidentschaftswahl in Afghanistan droht zu scheitern. Vier Tage nach der Stichwahl fordert Kandidat Abdullah, die Auszählung der Stimmen zu stoppen – obwohl ihm die besseren Chancen zugesprochen werden.

(4) “AFGHANISTAN: Favorit Abdullah fordert Stopp der Stimmauszählung,” Die Zeit, 18. Juni 2014 (14:42 Uhr).

Der afghanische Präsidentschaftskandidat hat kein Vertrauen mehr in die Wahlbehörden. Bei der Stichwahl am Samstag sei massiv betrogen worden, sagte Abdullah.

(5) Le Monde.fr avec AFP, “Afghanistan: Abdullah, le favori de la présidentielle, demande la suspension du dépouillement,” 18 Juin 2014 (Mis à jour à 15h23).

Giving an idea of the scale of the alleged fraud, Stancati reported the following:

Yusuf Nuristani, chairman of the IEC , which organized the election and is counting the votes, said Saturday’s turnout was up from 6.6 million in the first round. While turnout was largely the same or lower in much of the country, the IEC’s initial tallies indicated a dramatic surge—in the areas of eastern Afghanistan that are Mr. Ghani’s base.

In the eastern province of Khost, for example, initial IEC tallies showed that more than 400,000 voters cast ballots on Saturday, up from 113,000 in the first round.

According to the 2012-13 data compiled by Afghanistan’s central statistics office, Khost’s entire population is 549,000—and, given Afghanistan’s demographic structure, at least one-third of them are children.

In the nearby province of Paktika, 390,000 voters cast their ballots on Saturday, up from 180,000. The province’s population is 414,000.

The role of the United States, which has reportedly had numerous Afghan government officials on its CIA payroll, in addition to making deliveries of bags containing millions of dollars in cash to the presidential palace on a regular basis, is not clear.

For details of the election fraud in 2009, use the search box to select articles on Afghanistan. It is found in the upper right-hand corner of our home page, which you can reach by clicking on the title banner above

The dedication of the Obama administration to a transparent counting of the votes, against this backdrop, remains to be demonstrated.

Stay tuned for further developments. The stakes are extremely high.

The perceived legitimacy of this election may well have a decisive impact on whether the soldiers in the Afghan army stand and fight after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2015, or rather lay down their arms and run, like the Iraqi soldiers who fled Mosul this last week.

The Trenchant Observer

If you accept the May 25 elections, Mr. Putin, then order a “full-stop” to aggression in the eastern Ukraine

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sent special operations forces into eastern Ukraine to spark and coordinate “separatist” rebellions by the use of force, continues to play his duplicitous and treacherous “double game” in the Ukraine.

If he hoped to retain a shred of credibility in saying he would respect the results of the May 25, 2014 national elections in the Ukraine, he would have had to call a “FULL STOP” to further violence by pro-Russian forces.

Instead, the subversive forces which he launched into action under the leadership and coordination of Russian special operations forces (including so-called “little green men”) continue to seize control of government buildings by the use of force, in a region they seek to turn into a pro-Russian dictatorship which holds sway by fear, intimidation, assassinations, and the public display and use of armed force.

Far from acting as if Russia will respect the results of the Ukrainian elections, these Russian special operations forces and intelligence operatives, whose true identities have been unmasked, are engaged in violent suppression of the exercise of fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom of the press, the right to physical integrity and to be free from the arbitrary use of force, and the right to participate in government and to vote in free and fair elections, particularly in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas.

Because the taking of a human life constitutes murder when it occurs outside the framework of domestic and international law, these Russians and Russian agents are, in clear moral and legal terms, committing murder against the Ukrainian security forces (and others) who are legitimately seeking to restore public order in the eastern Ukraine.

While Putin was announcing he would “respect” the results of the May 25 elections, Russian agents were murdering innocent Ukrainian soldiers, including in one ambush where some 17 were killed.

Now Putin strides on the world stage to claim that the invasion and annexation of the Crimea were justified under international law, and that he has no interest in further irredentist actions.

His response is due to the firmness of the West in threatening further, “Stage Three” sanctions, the enhanced deployment of NATO capabilities along the borders of NATO countries which border Russia, and the likelihood of NATO now stationing combat forces in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Romania. He may also be responding to pressures from China, which certainly does not want to see any secessionist movements succeed which might inspire Uighur or Tibetan separatists.

Putin has a losing hand, and seems to be slowly recognizing that reality. Perhaps he thinks the West and the civilized nations of the world will quickly forget about his invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

That is not a good long-term bet, as the bedrock principles of the U.N. Charter prohibiting the use of force and annexation of conquered territories may be tenaciously held and defended over the longer term. One need only think of Cyprus or East Timor to grasp the point.

In view of the above, it is now a time for vigilance against potential actions by a treacherous Russian leader, whose mendacity is evident in every statement he makes, including those intended to give a conciliatory impression in the West.

If you are going to respect the May 25 election results in the Ukraine, Mr. Putin, begin respecting the election now by calling off your special operations forces and intelligence operatives and their agents in the eastern Ukraine.

ORDER THEM TO DESIST FROM FURTHER VIOLENCE, SEIZURE OF GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS, AND ACTIONS TO DISRUPT THE HOLDING OF THE ELECTIONS ON SUNDAY.

ORDER A FULL-STOP, MR. PUTIN. NOW.

The Trenchant Observer

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